While at the RWA National Conference in New York at the end of June, I attended a media training workshop. The workshop concentrated on preparing yourself for interviews – particularly hostile interviews. The questions running through my head were: “Why do we have to defend our writing like this? Why is Romance under constant attack?” I have my own theories and have written about those in a previous post.
However, here is one heartening item broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this morning. Keith Oatley has just published Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction. My attention was caught by the comments Oatley made about the way in which fiction informs and socializes readers. He claims that people who read fiction are better equipped for social interaction than those who read only non-fiction. The most striking of these was (and I paraphrase his words): Readers of fiction are better prepared for sexual and interpersonal encounters.
With all the trash thrown at romance fiction about its detrimental effects on readers, this particular claim puts to rest any arguments along those lines. Romance provides a safe environment for readers of both sexes to learn about relationships. Regardless of the heat level, most romantic novels these days present characters who are people with difficulties and needs they overcome during the course of the story. A reader can experience problems vicariously and relate these to their own lives.
Even if the novel is far-fetched and fantastic, the positive atmosphere, at the very least, takes the reader away from their day to day difficulties with no damage to their sense of reality. I know from my own reading of Gone with the Wind – presented to me when I was 14 and my mother deemed I had come of age – the introduction to the complicated workings of the human heart prepared me for more than just meeting my own Rhett Butler. Romance novels are always so much more than a “love” story.
They are also lessons in survival, determination, justice, ethics, morality, emotional intelligence as well as providing learning experiences about other countries, customs, periods of history and walks of life in a form that is also entertaining and fulfilling. In my first book for Avalon Books, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, Sylviana wrestles with self-doubt and low self-esteem to find the love of her life. Her battle with herself matches Eric’s insecurities. Their struggles against their worst enemies forms the foundation of my story. These emotions are never far away from any human relationship.
A reviewer of Such Stuff as Dreams comments: ” Many people have noted that men can be much more comfortable with a solid biography ( or instruction manual) than they are with the fictional world which is found in a novel, and this book is concerned with exploring this terrain.” This is certainly my own personal experience. Give a man a history book or political analysis and he’s away. Present him with fiction and you get a shrug. Starquester goes on to say: Such Stuff as Dreams …” is deft in its establishment of the links between social skills/empathy and the consumption of fiction, and as such is a valuable companion piece to works such as The Essential Differences by Simon Baron Cohen.”
As I’ve questioned before, can any other genre claim to develop social skills in the way that romance fiction does? As by far the most popular genre of all, romance writers can celebrate their positive influence on generation after generation of readers. Why else do mothers pass on their most treasured books to their daughters as they come of age?
After the media training workshop, I announced to my colleagues that I won’t be hiding anymore. I’m out of the closet. I not only read romance, I write romance. Can anything be better than writing about people falling in love and making a go of a relationship against all the odds, as well as providing solid training material and entertainment for all readers?
Oatley’s book will be on my shelf from this day on.